Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Beach combing on North Caicos

In which our Clueless Expatriates and Cheese-Addicted Dog Fail to Reach Whitby, Dooley the Demented Embarks on a New Career as a tripod, and Once Again the Fools are Caught in a Small Boat during a Squall.
Here's a post about another weekend trip when we loaded up the boat and dog and set off on another picnic trip with all our plans and preparations neatly in place.

We shoulda known bettah.

I am thinking that by now anyone who has read this far on this blog must know the coastline between Leeward-Going-Through and Fort George Cay about as well as we do. So in a novel attempt to shorten these posts I am going to skip the twenty photos of us launching the skiff, and working our way down the channel. Lets save some download time here. You've already seen what it's like for us to be sailing or motoring past Little Water Cay, Water Cay, Pine Cay, Fort George Cay, Dellis Cay, Parrot Cay.....We can just tune in again as we round the northernmost part of the Turks and Caicos Islands at North Caicos. These little rocky islets between Sandy Point and Pumpkin Bluff are the Three Mary Cays. Often just referred to as 3 Marys.

Thinking about it, I guess maybe I did jump into this description a little abruptly. I assumed that anyone reading this has read it all before, but then realized that there might be some new people reading this for the first time with this post. Then, of course, what I wrote above seems pretty presumptuous of me. So to ameliorate that a little bit, here's a Google Earth image of the far end portion of our journey on that day:

We came in as that line of yellow dots from the left, some 13 miles from the boat ramp at Sherlock Walkin's Leeward marina. Now I should tell you that this whole trip is actually a failed attempt on our part. When we started out in the boat we had planned to go take some photos of a really nice beachcombing beach over near the North Caicos village of Whitby. The wind forecast was from the east-southeast, and we were hoping to be in the lee of the island on that side, and to find a smooth place to anchor the boat. As so often is the case when we make these big plans, something didn't cooperate. I guess in this case, the wind didn't get the memo. Because it was blowing out of the east-northeast when we got there. I drew an arrow on that satellite image to show you about what the wind was doing.

But I am ahead of myself, as usual. Let me get back to the 3 Mary cays. These little rocks extend out from the shoreline a few hundred meters and as far as I can tell, are probably the northernmost exposed land in the entire Turks and Caicos Islands. We've been snorkeling off some exposed reef over near Pelican Point and that might be a little further north. I can't find those rocks on the satellite image or on the paper chart to verify where they are. There is a lot of this country still basically uncharted. I think those are submerged at high tide so they wouldn't really count for my purposes of supporting my own statements, anyway.

We were in pretty smooth waters until we rounded the outside of the 3 Mary Cays. Then we started feeling the effect of the fetch as the wind had plenty of room to start making things bumpy for us. For the non-nautical folks out there, the 'fetch' is the distance over water that the wind has to build up some steam. Or in our case, waves. This photo is from just past the outermost cay, looking at the other two and the beach of North Caicos:

I guess we could say that this was 'the third rock from the fun'. Oooh. That was bad. Forgive me?

That big funny looking basin is a sandy bottom inside the dark ledge of rock that sticks up from the bottom a couple of feet or so. We were over the rocky part when we took that photo. Can you see that the water to the left side of that photo is starting to develop more bumps than the water to the right side?

This is looking back to the west at the middle rock. This was where that line of yellow dots swung back toward the beach in the image up at the top of the post.

We saw that the wind was going to make our planned trip to the delightfully trashed beach at Whitby uncomfortable. So at this point we took the boat in next to the beach to see if we could anchor there and find any good stuff washed up. The beach here was fairly rocky, and unfortunately, clean of interesting debris. Oh, that's not a complaint, exactly. We love clean beaches, but some of the stuff that washes ashore on the beaches exposed to the open Atlantic can be pretty interesting. I'll tell you about some of it later in the post while I am making excuses for why we don't have any photos of it. Yet.

At this point in the picnic we pretty much had decided that we were not going to be able to either beach the boat or anchor it securely in the combined wind, waves, and ever present long shore current running to the west. We could see that the wind and waves were coming directly at us from the direction of that distant point in this next photo. That point is called Pumpkin Bluff. We did not have GPS or any charts with us, but our memory was that there was a decent stretch of beach there, which might be somewhat sheltered from this wind direction. You can also see the old freighter wreck in the cut in the reef there to the left:

See what I mean about the waves? Not too rough to boat over, but difficult to anchor the skiff in close to the beach.

Having come this far we thought we would continue a bit more and see if we could find some calm water out of the wind behind that point, over by that grove of Casuarinas trees. Boating is pretty interesting here, even in a shallow water skiff like ours. There really isn't anything in the way of commercial or regular boat traffic through here, and so there are no marked channels or hazards. Come to think of it, there are no channels, and it's pretty much ALL hazards here. In fact, on this trip we officially wore the paint off the skeg on the new Suzuki. I think this might be a record for us, 22 hours on a new motor before it kissed the lovely sands of the Turks and Caicos for the first time. All outboard motor skegs in the Turks and Caicos Islands are shiny and nicked. I wish the manufacturers would just ship them that way from the factory so that I don't have to feel bad about that first scuff mark. Well, we're over that with the Suzuki now.

We dodged coral and rocks and shallow spots for another couple of miles and finally were able to find calmer water tucked in behind the point. Now, this is more like it:

This is looking back to the west, the way from which we just traveled:

Not a soul in sight, in either direction. Ahhh....We like secluded beaches.

And this is a photo looking out at the old freighter wreck in the reef cut offshore here. That's about 1.3 km (eight tenths of a mile) offshore. We took some other photos of this wreck some years ago, if you feel like comparing how it looks now with how it looked back almost four years ago. I also found another post with better photos of the 3 Marys and the freighter here when that stuff was still new to us. Looking at those two other posts, maybe you can see why I am not putting a lot of effort into images of the cays in this one. We've done all that.

Looking back at that earlier post (Dooley looked so.... so young!) I can see that the wreck was still mostly in one big piece then. Not any longer:

And speaking of Dooley the Determined, I finally managed to use the skills gleaned from modifying our Land Rover top and sewed a couple of plastic buckles to his life jacket. Yes, with needle and thread. I tried the Peter Pan soap stick trick but it must work better for shadows than it does for video cameras near the ocean . But now we can attach the GoPro camera to him. He seems to be perfectly okay acting as a camera platform. I was prepared to bribe him with a piece of cheese out of my sandwich, but it wasn't necessary. (This dog would sign up for the Iditarod if he thought there was a hunk of cheddar at the far end of it.)Here he is after a very successful first swim carrying a camera, during which he managed to make it all of about 20 meters from the boat to the beach without mishap.

I know some of you photography buffs out there are interested in the footage, and we'll show you some of what we got here. But keep in mind that this was our first attempt, and as is pretty common with first attempts where Dooley is concerned, we have some fine tuning to do.

But this is what swimming ashore looks like from Dooley's perspective. If you can get inside his head, you might be able to follow the kinds of things that get his interest. Starting with La Gringa handing me my hat and sunglasses.... while he watches every move.

(Music is "Guitarra Del Fuego" by Johannes Linstead)

The issues I still have to work out include the fact that the camera fogs up inside the waterproof housing when it's in video mode here after about fifteen minutes. So leaving the camera running for longer than a few minutes is a waste of time, effort, and battery life. The other issue is that while the camera is fairly steady (I'd call it usable) while he's swimming, the minute he got ashore and went into that full body shakedown that dogs do when they go ashore.... well it shook the bejesus out of that camera and I still get dizzy looking at the footage. I need to modify the mount for some fore-and-aft stability. I'm pretty sure I know an easy fix for that.

Of course once he got ashore Dooley promptly forgot all his instructions to get startling new footage of things only he could find using his doggie powers. He was willing to throw away his career as a camera tripod. Uh, well that's not entirely accurate. He was only actually a 'tripod' for a few brief seconds next to the first bush he passed on his way to the trees. The camera was flopping loose, hanging by one strap, within a few minutes of Dooley the Destroyer taking the beach.

Before we had to remove the camera to air it out and defog it again, Dooley managed to scamper through the underbrush for a bit. And here's some footage of that little romp. I think you'll be able to see why I need to strengthen up this mount a little bit. No worries. It'll be done before the next post.

(Music is "Vikingman" by Rodrigo y Gabriela)

And I can tell you that after watching about thirty minutes of this stuff, I think I developed whiplash. La Gringa edited out most of the fuzzy, fogged over parts but still, there's No wonder this dog needs so many naps. He burns through a half a can of calories just by being conscious.

Fortunately we had another camera along as usual, and were able to get some other images. For example, here's a nice sea sage plant. $20 at the nursery on Providenciales. Growing wild everywhere else.

We were hoping for some interesting trash. We really didn't find much. Oh, there was trash. This is a fairly little used beach, but the quality of the trash was, well, trashy. Not the interesting fishing beacons, and anti-submarine warfare sonobuoys, and pieces of oceanographic moorings that I have found on other beaches here in the islands. Over at Whitby a few years ago I identified products of at least three New England oceanographic equipment companies I know a bit about.

We strolled down the beach a bit, keeping one eye on the weather. So common this time of year, we are pretty much guaranteed afternoon squalls in this part of the country. And of course we are always in a small open boat. Why we keep subjecting ourselves to this is a mystery to me. But we do.

You can just make out the boat anchored right at the beach about halfway to the point here:

You can probably also see that there isn't a lot of interesting trash on this beach, dang it. You can just never find a suitably trashy beach when you want a photo of one.

It's not that it was totally bare. Up at the high tide line, where the seaweed and turtle grass washes up, we did find some stuff. Not all of it was man made, as you might expect. We saw a few sponges out of their element:

There are always plastic water bottles and rope. To use the correct phraseology, I think that once it's off the spool, in sailing terms it's no longer "rope". It's now called "line". But in researching this a bit, I got a little confused. I read that in the mountain climbing world, it's "A rope is a rope until it becomes employed then it becomes a line and remains a line until the job is done." Okay. But it's not that simple. Ropes on boats are turned into all kinds of other things, including some that are called ropes. Oh well. On the beaches of an island, there are ropes. They might once have also been employed as sheets, halyards, warps, rodes, pendants, painters, hawsers, strops, cables, mooring lines, docklines, leech lines, heaving lines, downhauls, uphauls, out-hauls, guys, reef points, lashings, lanyards, preventers, or vangs. This doesn't even get into the ways they are used in the fishing industry.... hey I don't know how I got sidetracked onto this. One thing we do know about things washed up on beaches, they are very, very seldom wire rope.

La Gringa took some photos of some non-human debris. I think this might be the exo-skeleton of a sea urchin, but I could be wrong. After the confusion about ropes and lines, I refused to look it up. Sometimes simple works. Especially for those of us who are naturally simple minded, or trying to be.

She was also curious about this grass. Living plants that can survive in sun and sand without a visible source of fresh water are of some passing interest to us. Especially if we don't have to water, prune, protect, spray, and buy them.

In addition to the ubiquitous plastic water bottles we suspect now reside on every beach in the world, we find a huge number of shoes washed ashore. Sometimes a huge number of small shoes, and in this case, a small number of huge shoes. I mean, I'm no lightweight, with a size eleven double wide paddle foot I don't even need flippers..... and this guy made my feet look almost petite. Now, I said 'almost', and I didn't say pretty.

But who knew Bigfoot lost a sandal while he was here? A body surfing chihuahua could have fun with this. How do you bark Cowabunga in Spanish? I'll have to ask Dooley. He's multi-dogual.

And while we didn't find any of the oceanographic bits I was hoping to show you on this beach, that's not to say it doesn't have it's own brand of technology going on. I can't remember the last time we saw a cathode ray tube on a shipping pallet on a beach.

I couldn't even pick up the local station on it.

I mentioned shoes are common on the beaches, but have spared you the photos of the fifteen or twenty we probably saw this day alone. But I did want to show you this one. I spotted this bright blue Croc in a pile of seaweed and pulled it out to get a better photo. It's not surprising that it floated ashore. Crocs float like corks. Probably better than corks. But that's not what got my attention. See all those dings and scrapes and cuts? Those are teeth marks. I suspect these are the results of fish who hit this shoe as it floated along on the surface. Wahoo would probably hit it, and rainbow dolphin would, too. Not sure what else might think Crocs look tasty. Sharks? Marlin? I've seen some pretty outrageous lures selling for big dollars in the fishing tackle stores. I mean, if a sailfish will hit a pink and white hairy thing...why not a blue Croc? Heck for all we know this shoe has already been run through the inside of several sharks. Some of those holes are pretty big. I'm just glad I wasn't the guy wearing those shoes when this all transpired.

That bite where the little toe used to be would have definitely left a mark.

Pretty good advertisement for a tough shoe, though.

After finding that up in the edge of the trees I looked around a little more. Not much interesting there. Stuff like this piece of.... well... you figure it out. My head hurts.

I wandered further down the beach hoping to find SOMEthing useful or interesting, but alas, this beach is just too clean. Not even much in the way of interesting driftwood. We did see this log, and I spent a few minutes trying to figure out if it was worth dragging into the water and taking home. I decided it wasn't. It's ten or twelve feet long and weighs quite a bit. But then I know it'll probably still be here for a long time. Or until we get another storm.

Dooley showed up agitated, which he does when La Gringa and I get separated by more than a few yards. He strongly prefers all three of us be in one location where he can keep his eye on us. We had taken his camera off since he kept insisting on crawling under things that were unfriendly to camera mounts. It was the dog-cam equivalent of driving your car into your garage with your new bicycle on roof racks.

Anyhow, I knew he was trying to get my attention. We've learned to listen to this dog from time to time. Not always. He'll lie to your face if food is involved.

It wasn't hard to see what he was on about, though. La Gringa had given up on beachcombing and was headed back to the boat. It was hot, and past lunch, and we had miles to go to get home. And the sky was beginning to do that sky thing it does around here in the summer. That's La Gringa on the beach, with the skiff off in the distance. Don't you just hate these summer beach crowds?

I still had some interest in exploring further, but had to admit that even I was having a hard time coming up with any uses for any of this stuff. I mean, these are two well matched, perfectly good buoys of some kind. And I just KNOW that if I stuck some pvc pipe in those holes, I could come up with something useful. But I'll be damned if I can figure out what. Hey, how about running some nylon line through them and using them for the end stoppers and organizers on a custom hammock....

Nah. Nothing realistic came to mind. So I trudged back on up the beach to the skiff where La Gringa and Dooley the Dehydrated were waiting for me to come to my senses. As they have been doing for years now, come to think of it.

This next part is kinda fun. Just as I was about to climb on the boat La Gringa spotted this big fish headed right at us. Unusual in water this shallow. I grabbed one of the cameras (with water on the lens, obviously) and tried to get some photos but they didn't come out as well as I had hoped. This is about a three foot barracuda cruising the shoreline.

He, she, or it (as the case may be) swam by me in probably about a foot of water. It was between me and the beach, as you can see here. This was the shallowest we have ever seen them, but I suppose they'll go anywhere after something to eat. I was just glad I decided to forgo my silver toenail polish for this trip.

That was enough excitement for us. I piled in the boat and we headed back to Leeward to call it a day. We'll have to come back when the wind has more of a southerly component to get around the point to Whitby. And that's okay with us. We don't mind a good excuse to come back this way on another trip. It's nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city of Provo.

It was well past noon and we were looking for a place to stop for lunch. We decided to tuck into this little protected nook on the northern edge of the northernmost piece of dry land in the entire nation. This is the outside rock of the 3 Marys, and you can see the smooth water up behind it:

We pulled the skiff into the lee and dropped the hook.

A nice calm spot for a leisurely late lunch:

If any of you are ever here and feel the need to check this spot out, here's a better image. You could swim to this spot from the beach, if you don't have access to a boat. The water on the west side of the 3 Mary's is exceptionally shallow. Enough said about that, cause I don't want to think about my no-longer unblemished new skeg any more. I say no-longer, but I guess I should be happy to report my skeg is no-shorter, either.

Our other motive in stopping here for a bit was because we could clearly see that the weather was dumping rain between us and Providenciales. We put the bimini up on the boat, wasted as much time as we could get away with, and then slowly followed the squall giving it plenty of time to get ahead of us.

Eventually we spotted a thin spot in the clouds and made a run for it. We still got drenched. Again. If you look at the shoreline in the next photo you might recognize Water Cay and the little cliffs there where we often stop on our excursions . We decided to pull up and let the rain get further ahead of us. It's not fun (or smart) to keep getting caught in the same storm several times. See? We're learning.

We found a nice little cliff that was useful for keeping us out of the last bit of the rain as it blew over.

And after a few minutes we were in the sunshine again. I swear this dog was nodding off while standing up. He had missed all six of his scheduled naps so far today.

If you think the scupper is pretty close to the water on that photo above, you'd be right. That's probably because I picked up a few pounds of ballast while we were waiting out the storm. I think they'll fit in nicely with a walkway I am building at home. Don't worry, there is absolutely NO DIY in this post.

I just picked up the stick because I thought it looked neat. I can't help it. I was a woodworker in an earlier life and still get fascinated by driftwood.

The rest of this trip was pretty uneventful. Two point one tired people headed back to the barn dodging squalls. We got the boat back on the trailer and headed home. We were on the road to our house back on Provo, and could see the line of squalls was still hammering the islands to the north. So it wouldn't have helped us to wait longer hoping to avoid the squalls. Biting the bullet and getting soaked just got us home earlier. And there comes a point in an open boat where you just can't get any wetter. Seems to happen to us every time we go out. At least it's fresh water when it starts at the top and works its way down.

So that's the end of this post. We started the trip with just a couple of objectives in mind, the main one being to take the skiff over to the other side of North Caicos. One of these days we are going to make the trip all the way to the old ruins at Jacksonville, but we need the time and weather to cooperate. So we'd consider this a partial dry run, except it wasn't dry. Never is. It turned out to just be another one of those days.

That's okay. We kinda like those days.

And we are warming up to the new camera, too. There's quite a learning curve. As another example, here's a timelapse with a frame every 30 seconds. Maybe you can spot the seagull that landed to check out the camera about five seconds into this.

(Music is "Silence Must Be Heard" by Enigma)

How's THAT for closing out a nice day and our 252nd blog post?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cheap Fill

This is going to be a quick, low-quality, cut-rate, disappointing post to fill in this big blank period between the last post and the next post. I'd call it an interim post, but I think I've overused that term in some of my earlier shallow excuses. We are working on a new post, but other commitments keep splattering on the windshield of life and delaying us. Hence this Cheap Fill of a post to let you know we haven't forgotten you. Nope. Not at all.

We had a visit from an old friend in late June. The "Star of the Sea" stopped by the island on another run to Haiti. Captain Bob Nichols and crew spent several days here, taking on fuel, food, and water. If you have read previous posts in this blog, you have read about the missionary work that the three-masted schooner has been involved in. If not, or if you'd like to read up on the boat in more detail you can take a side trip to that post by clicking here: Star of the Sea.

While setting up that link I noticed that we've written and posted photos of the boat on four different posts. I am hoping most readers know that if you click one of the topics on the list over on the bottom of the right side of this page, you'll be instantly transported to posts on those subjects in a separate window. When you're done, just close that window and you'll return to this one. In the perfect Internet world, that is.

We heard Capt. Nichols on the VHF radio one morning as they approached Providenciales on their way in from the Bahamas. They're once again out sailing the seas to deliver donated food and supplies to orphanages. They sail from Florida to the orphanage in Cat Island in the Bahamas, and then they sail from Cat Island to here. From the Turks and Caicos Islands they go pick up more supplies at the Morton Salt Company on Great Inagua and take them to starving children in Haiti. We published a map in the earlier post. Here's a photo of the ship docked at the Southside marina. This was taken from a little shelter where it's rumored that passing sailors and motor cruisers occasionally put aside their differences and get together for cookouts and happy hours. It's a nice spot to take a break on shore for cruisers who need a break on their journeys between the Southern Bahamas and the Caribbean.

We did have another reason to visit the boat again besides just saying hello. Captain Bob had decided it was time to replace a couple of the main sacrificial anodes on the hull of the Star of the Sea, and this is a good place to do it. For any non-boaters out there, these anodes are just big hunks of the metal zinc. Boats with metal parts in the water (and especially those with electrical systems) generate electrolysis in seawater. The short version of all this is that zinc acts like the weakest link in this circle of electron swapping. It corrodes away first before iron, steel, or aluminum corrodes away. This is useful information to boating people who don't want their boats' metal parts to disappear.

When these hunks of zinc anode are all eaten away, the electrolysis starts eating on the aluminum, iron, and steel parts next. So from time to time someone has to remove old corroded zincs and replace them with new ones.

Captain Bob had located two suitably sized anodes here in Providenciales, but they needed to be modified to fit the mounting studs welded to the hull of the Star of the Sea. He brought them over and left them for me to do a little 'bush machining'. I ended up 'milling' the slugs down and drilling some holes to make them fit. Here they are sitting in the skiff.

I should have put something in the photo for scale, but the line there is ½", if that gives you an idea. I said I 'milled" the ends, but actually I used a reciprocating demolition saw to cut the ends down. This is because the studs welded to the hull only protrude about an inch, and the zincs are too thick. Ideally, with correctly sized zincs, the holes would be drilled in the steel mounting flanges. If you're curious about the labels, "Camp" is the name of a company that specializes in zinc anodes. There are lots of different versions. Painting over the zinc is bad because paint protects it from the sea, and the electrolysis goes looking for something else to eat. Like, a rudder or a propeller shaft.

We took another look at the ship while we were delivering the zincs. I don't think that I ever showed you where cargo is stored in the previous posts. I was trying to think of something new to photograph, and I know that I was interested in where they stacked seven tons of food.

This is the starboard side of the cargo hold. The food boxes are stacked in there between the fencing and the hull.

You can see photos of those food boxes being offloaded in Haiti if you jump to the second half of the post Loose Ends.

I don't know, exactly, what's inside one of those food boxes. I'll try to remember to ask Captain Bob to send us a photo of the contents one of these days.

This is the port side of the cargo hold. Yes, that's a mattress on a sheet of plywood on top of the cargo cage. This is where one of the crew sleeps for the entire cruise. No air conditioning. No television. No room service. No privacy. No kidding.

And not very comfortable in ten foot seas. What holds you on the mattress?

The food is decent though. I certainly wouldn't begrudge them a good meal. We can also verify that in addition to being an old-fashioned modern-day sailing missionary, Captain Bob is an excellent cook. That's another oxymoron, isn't it? I had already decided not to call him a swashbuckling Christian, and then let old-fashioned modern-day slip by me. I'm leaving it in because it comes as close to saying what I mean as I can think of right now, if you know what I mean.

Capt. Bob and his crew were out at the house playing catch with Dooley the Dervish. Well, it was 'catch', or 'fetch' if he missed the catch. Dooley loves it. And Bob noticed that all the fuzz was chewed off Dooley's favorite tennis ball. He said he had about 500 used tennis balls that he was taking to Haiti. He figured he could probably spare one for Dooley. So I asked him why he was taking all those used tennis balls to Haiti. Bob told me the majority of these kids in Haiti have never in their lives owned a rubber ball. If they want to play 'catch', they have to use a rock. If you've ever played catch by throwing a rock back and forth, you probably know that it's a totally different experience than playing with a bouncy rubber ball. There's something missing from the fun of the game when you have to catch a rock thrown at you. A single used tennis ball would be the equivalent of the best gift these kids ever received. Probably the only gift they ever received that wasn't immediately eaten to survive. Things are pretty bleak in Haiti.

We try to help where we can. Like, getting the word out that the mission still needs donations to pay their expenses to make these life saving trips to the orphans. When the accumulated donations add up to five thousand dollars, and the donated food is ready, they can start planning the next trip. The food is donated by churches in the USA. Bob donates the ship, and the crew are all unpaid volunteers. The money goes for diesel fuel, food, and supplies. Using a sailing ship is about the cheapest way there is to transport tons of cargo. I thought I would show you guys that donations to the ministry are not going for luxury ship accommodations.

We took a tour of the ship again when we dropped off the modified zincs. While we were down below decks, Dooley the Detective was searching the deck for the kinds of things he's interested in. Every time I looked up, he was pacing past the portholes, and peering in to see what we were up to. I thought it made for some good photo ops:

I was also playing around with some of the effects built into the photo software, looking for a frame that would complement the round porthole:

Dooley really wanted to come down below with us, but we decided it best to leave him up where he couldn't get into much trouble. If he had smelled rats on board, it would have been a different story. It's very, very obvious when he gets on the trail of a rat. I'll spare you the ugly details, but suffice it to say that rats use Dooley stories to scare their kids into behaving.

We didn't abandon him on the deck, of course. We wouldn't do that to him. We'd have to pay for any damages. Anyhow he was in good company with one of his new buddies. This is 'Sharky', from Cat Island, Bahamas.

Did you notice that anthropormorpologically speaking, Sharky and Dooley have assumed the same pose in that photo? Is anthropormorphologically even a word? I doubt it. And if it is a word, there's a better than even chance I am misusing it. I am trying to say they have settled into similar sitting positions, given their obvious differences. Dooley is the one getting his ribs scratched. Looks to me like they are both enjoying it.

Sharky is sixteen, and is the son of the director of the Cat Island orphanage. He is making his first big sailing trip away from home. Nice way to start. Sharky brought us a watermelon from Cat Island. We iced it down and shared it with the crew. Delicious.

We noticed that the ship is starting to show the effects of all the wear and tear of constant traveling in the tropics. This boat gets tied up next to some pretty marginal docks and wharfs and quays and, well, rocks. She gets a beating. Bob told us that she is going to be hauled out at a shipyard in Florida after this trip, and the hull will be cleaned and painted. I'll try to show you some before and after photos the next time she comes through 'town'.

Speaking of beatings, I really don't mean to beat you up about donations but we believe that what these guys are doing is just one of those worthwhile things in life. It's very basically just the right thing to do from a purely humanitarian aspect. These food donations are not just a big box of candy bars. Those kids are starving, literally. And it's not just the children who are helped by this. Bob was telling us that on the last trip they were in Haiti during the cholera crisis. The survivors of the cholera are intended to be put on specific diets in order to let them recover from the ordeal of being completely cleaned out of nutrients and the good kind of intestinal bacteria. But the right food is seldom available to most of them, and continued dehydration and starvation are very real threats to their continued existence. The donated food is the ideal mix for cholera patients. So in addition to that seven ton cargo feeding hungry orphans, it is also being used to increase the chances of survival of the adults that are taking care of them.

I posted a link to the Star of the Sea mission on that previous blog post. This time I am posting a link to their Facebook page: Star of the Sea. There are more photos and information there for you Facebook fanatics. If you can spare a few dollars for a good cause, please help. And it doesn't always have to be just money, although space on the boat is somewhat limited. I've already told you about the tennis balls donated to liven up life a little for the kids of Haiti. While the crew was in town here, we also took them to rendezvous with a local businesswoman who was sending a pile of donated clothing back to Haiti with the ship.

Now I'll get off my soapbox, and back to our own little privileged world, where nobody starves and where children are never even asked to imagine living a short miserable life in a hungry world without toys.

Ah, speaking of toys (how's that for a segue?) I thought I should make some modifications to the skiff after our experiences in some squalls a couple of weeks ago. As captain of our own little boat it behooves me to make sure we don't get caught offshore in those conditions again without a radio, a compass, and something to hang on to. I know, I know, it would also work if we just stayed close to land. We'll take that under consideration, but in the meantime, I have made some modifications to the boat.

This is what the little console looked like before I started. I have already installed three grab rails so that people have something to hang onto, and I have ideas for a much more substantial frame and seat. I want to have one fabricated that incorporates a seat and windshield frame in front of the console. That project is still in the design phase. I also needed a compass and radio. The compass is easy, and I bought one of those on a trip last month to Pittsburgh when I stopped by a West Marine store. Mounting the radio was a bit of a challenge. I just could not find a good place to mount one on this little boat.

I wanted the radio protected and out of the way. We only need it when we need it. I decided I had to make some kind of a mounting bracket. I used a scrap piece of marine plywood for the prototype. Easy enough to screw the radio bracket to a strip of plywood:

All those shiny shavings and dust are zinc particles left over from me sawing up Captain Bob's anodes, in case you were wondering. I should have taken some photos of that. I had zinc shavings in places that should only see zinc oxide. I cleaned all this up after this project, but at the time I knew I was going to be sawing some more metal to mount the radio. Sure enough, I added aluminum and 316 stainless shavings to the pile before it was all over.

I had some aluminium angle left over from the modifications I did to the Hobie Tandem Island trailer (photos in that same Southside Marina post) and I just used two pieces of that for angle brackets on each end of the plywood. I drilled two holes in each side of the skiff console that match up with the two holes in the brackets. This way, the only mods to the console are four little holes that are nicely covered by stainless screws. I might even be able to engineer up some drink holders that use the same screws.

I did run into a problem in mounting the radio antenna. I didn't have any stainless quarter-twenty bolts that were threaded all the way to the head. I needed four bolts that would hold the antenna bracket to the fiberglass console. It was a Sunday when I was doing this, so I couldn't just make the always exciting trip to the hardware store for the correct bolts. And not being a disciple of delayed gratification, I couldn't wait until Monday. So I just continued cutting the existing threads with a ¼-20 die. Which added to my pile of metal shavings. I did vacuum it all up once I put the hacksaws and drills away.

Here's a before and after photo. You can see that the top bolt would not let me tighten up a nut enough to hold this antenna mount (the thing in the top of the photo) to the thin fiberglass. The bottom bolt is the 'after' version. A tap and die set is one of those tools a DIY guy will find very very useful in a place like this. It sits unused for long periods of time, true, but when you need to cut new threads or clean up old corroded threads (which is called 'chasing' threads, by the way).... there's nothing better than having the correct tools. And for me, nothing rarer.

So anyhow, here is the 'after' photo of the skiff console with a compass, grab handle, VHF radio, and a short 4' antenna installed. A four foot antenna won't give us the range of an 8 ft. antenna, but it should cover us for most of the places we'll be taking this little boat. I had to cut out two places on the plywood strip so that it cleared the hydraulic steering and the bottom of the shifter/throttle assembly. If it works out okay, I plan to replace the wood with Starboard or some kind of plastic, using the prototype plywood mount as a template for the finished bracket. What I'll end up using for that will depend upon what I can find locally. An added benefit of having the VHF is that now we can register the boat and fish legally.

How would you like to have to haul your boat up that driveway? And the driveway is MUCH better than the road to the nearest pavement, four miles away. We do a shake, rattle and impact test on the boat and trailer every time we leave the house.

Another aspect of living here is what I've learned about fuel and outboard injectors. Using unfiltered fuel from the local marinas has caused me a fair bit of grief over the years. These days I tend to buy gasoline from the automobile stations and top up the skiff's 25 gallon tank before leaving the house. I think the automobile fuel stations have cleaner fuel, because it's fresher. They have a higher turnover than the marinas, and they tend to use more modern pumps with better sediment filters. The fuel at the local gas stations also is less expensive than the marina fuel. We just filled up the Land Rover last week, and diesel is presently running $ 6.30 a gallon here, to give you an idea.

I now use a little Racor fuel filter when I fill the skiff's tank. I use this even with fresh fuel straight from the gas pump. And I'll show you why.

I wanted to top up the tank for a recent trip up to Water Cay (more on that in the next post). This is the fuel filter when I started. No water, no dirt.

I drove the Land Rover to the nearest Texaco station and filled up two clean six gallon containers with gasoline. I just siphon the fuel from the container to the tank. This is easier than pouring it, and doesn't splash all over the place. Also, the filter is limited as to how fast it can pass fuel through the filtering screen (2.7 gallons per minute max) and using a small hose works just fine. It also lets me carry on with other stuff while the siphon is going on.

After siphoning six gallons of fresh, new gasoline, this is what was left in the little Racor. This was filtered out of the fresh gasoline:

About two tablespoons of water in six gallons of new gas:

There were also particles of sand and what appeared to be rust in the fuel. And this is the clean stuff fresh from the pump. Of course we also have an even better filter between the tank and the Suzuki, and I have started trying to keep the tank in the skiff topped up to minimize the condensation inside the tank. It's also a handy place to store gasoline for the generator, but that's a whole 'nuther story for another day. Our generator gets used a lot.

Well, despite my initial description of this as a short post, I see my long windedness has stretched it out about as far as I feel I can get away with. We have another post with some nice photos and videos coming up. All these mods to the skiff and filling it with gasoline were, of course, preparations for a trip to another island. I managed to cobble up a way to mount the new GoPro camera to Dooley the enDuring... and here's an advance photo of him after swimming ashore with the camera attached:

Just editing a few minutes of video from Dooley's view makes me feel like taking a nap, but we'll get it done. Actually, La Gringa takes over from this point on the videos, and we recently generated a lot of footage to go through and edit. We have also just returned from a 4th of July trip to Austin to visit family last weekend, and on the way back to the airport we stopped by an electronics store and bought two sets of anti-fog inserts for the GoPro camera. So we should be able to improve upon the quality of our videos using that underwater housing by preventing the lens from fogging up. Hopefully. We'll soon know about that, as I have several ideas for some different videos and more of the still photo montages and time lapse stuff we've been doing. For example, I am thinking of attaching the GoPro to a rock or anchor and lowering it down to deeper water outside the reef. That outta be fun. And of course we have scads of ideas using the Dooley DogCam approach. He doesn't seem to mind being a camera platform. I am drawing the line at buying him his own director's chair and a beret, though. Hmm.... Dooley the Director...?

I'll close this one with a short time-lapse from the GoPro camera. We were hoping for one of those nice, dramatic, tropical sunset scenes. We didn't get one of those because we were in a typical summer hazy day situation here. But I am hoping we can compensate for that with the neat effects of the clouds reflecting on the salina as they head for the sunset and the horizon.

Cool, eh?